A mumpsimus is an action by a person who adheres to a routine, idea, custom, set of beliefs, or a certain use of language that has been shown to be unreasonable or incorrect. For example, a person may continue to say all intents and purposes as all intensive purposes, even after being corrected. The term mumpsimus may also refer to the person who performs the action.
Mumpsimus has been defined as a "traditional custom obstinately adhered to however unreasonable it may be", as well as "someone who obstinately clings to an error, bad habit or prejudice, even after the foible has been exposed and the person humiliated; also, any error, bad habit, or prejudice clung to in this fashion". In other words, mumpsimus can describe the behavior, as well as the person doing it. Garner's Modern American Usage says the word could describe George W. Bush because of his persistent habit of pronouncing "nuclear" as /noo-kyə-lər/ ("nucular") instead of the standard /noo-klee-ər/, despite the error being widely reported.
The term originates from an apocryphal story about a poorly educated Catholic priest saying Latin mass who, reciting the postcommunion prayer Quod ore sumpsimus, Domine ["What we have received in the mouth, Lord"], instead of sumpsimus ["we have received"] says the non-word mumpsimus. After being made aware of his mistake, he nevertheless persisted with his erroneous version, either from stubborn force of habit or from refusing to believe he was mistaken.
The story was told by Desiderius Erasmus (1466–1536) in a letter he wrote in August 1516 to Henry Bullock. Erasmus used it as an analogy with those who refused to accept that Novum Instrumentum omne, his edition of the Greek New Testament, corrected errors in the Latin Vulgate. The English diplomat Richard Pace (1482–1536) included a variant in his 1517 work De Fructu qui ex Doctrina Percipitur, where the priest was English and had been saying mumpsimus for thirty years when corrected. While Pace's book (written in Latin) is credited by the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary as the origin of "mumpsimus", Pace acknowledged his borrowing in a 1517 letter to Erasmus. "Mumpsimus and sumpsimus" became proverbial among Protestants in the early English Reformation.
This cant word quickly became widely used by 16th-century writers. In William Tyndale's 1530 book Practice of Prelates, the word was used in the sense of a stubborn opponent to Tyndale's views. He said that the men whom Cardinal Wolsey had asked to find reasons why Catherine of Aragon was not truly the wife of King Henry VIII of England were "...all lawyers, and other doctors, mumpsimuses of divinity". In 1531 Sir Thomas Elyot used the word in his Boke named the Gouvernor where he said of Magnanimitie that the word, "...being yet straunge, as late borowed out of the Latyne, shall not content all men, and specially them whome nothing contenteth out of their accustomed mumpsimus".
I see and hear daily, that you of the clergy preach one against another, teach, one contrary to another, inveigh one against another, without charity or discretion. Some be too stiff in their old mumpsimus, other be too busy and curious in their new sumpsimus. Thus, all men almost be in variety and discord, and few or none do preach, truly and sincerely, the word of God, according as they ought to do.
Peter Heylin refers to the king's saying in his 1631 The History of St. George of Cappadocia when he talks of "...those self-conceited ones which are so stiffe—as King Harry used to say—in their new sumpsimus..." Hugh Latimer (1487–1555) used the term in two sermons he preached in 1552, saying: "When my neighbour is taught, and knoweth the truth, and will not believe it, but will abide in his old mumpsimus..." and again: "Some be so obstinate in their old mumpsimus, that they cannot abide the true doctrine of God."
In an 1883 polemic on errors in translations of the Christian Bible, John Burgon says: "If men prefer their 'mumpsimus' to our 'sumpsimus', let them by all means have it: but pray let them keep their rubbish to themselves—and at least leave our SAVIOUR's words alone."
The term has come into vogue among management science theorists. A. Leslie Derbyshire uses the term in his 1981 Mastering Management: Practical Procedures for Effective Business Control to describe managers who know how to do a better job but choose not to. In his 2005 Mumpsimus Revisited: Essays on Risk Management, Felix Kloman defines the term as "adherence to or persistence in an erroneous use of language, practice or belief, out of habit or obstinacy". Mary Lou Dobbs devotes a chapter to Empowerment vs. Mumpsimus in her 2010 Repotting Yourself: Financial-Emotional-Spiritual Flow. She describes mumpsimus as "...a disease attacking relationships in epidemic proportions".
Notes and references
- Scarlett & Roland 1972, p. 236.
- Elster 2006, p. 29.
- Garner 2009, p. 3709.
- Leighton & Leighton 2003, p. 39.
- Derbyshire 1981, p. 258.
- Marshall 2001, p. 513.
- Desiderius Erasmus; Roger Aubrey; Baskerville Mynors; Douglas Ferguson; Scott Thomson (1974). "Letter 456: to Henry Bullock". The Correspondence of Erasmus: Letters 446 to 593, 1516-1517. 4. University of Toronto Press. p. 46.
- Hall 1873, p. 137.
- Bradley, Henry, ed. (1908). Oxford English Dictionary. 6: M–N (1st ed.). Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. 764. Retrieved 26 February 2016.
- Marshall 2001, p. 514.
- Marshall 2001.
- Elyot 1883, p. 289.
- Marshall 2001, p. 516.
- Marshall 2001, p. 515.
- Dodd 1839, p. 453.
- Foxe 1859, p. 141.
- Burgon 1883, p. 218.
- Kloman 2005, p. 13.
- Dobbs 2010, p. 18.
- Dobbs 2010, p. 22.
- Burgon, John William (1883). The Revision Revised: Three Articles Reprinted from the Quarterly Review. 1. The New Greek Text. 2. The New English Version. 3. Westcott and Hort's New Textual Theory, to which is Added a Reply to Bishop Ellicott's Pamphlet in Defence of the Revisers and Their Greek Text of the New Testament ... J. Murray. Retrieved 2013-02-18.
- Derbyshire, A. Leslie (1 January 1981). Mastering Management: Practical Procedures for Effective Business Control. Cedar Fort. ISBN 978-0-88290-159-6. Retrieved 18 February 2013.
- Dobbs, Mary Lou (2010-04-16). "Empowerment vs. Mumpsimus". Repotting Yourself: Financial-Emotional-Spiritual Flow. John Hunt Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84694-335-5. Retrieved 2013-02-18.
- Dodd, Charles (1839). "Appendix No.XLIX". In Tierney, Mark Aloysius. Church history of England from the commencement of the sixteenth century to the revolution in 1688. Vol. 1. Charles Dolman. Retrieved 25 February 2015.
- Elster, Charles Harrington (22 February 2006). The Big Book Of Beastly Mispronunciations: The Complete Opinionated Guide for the Careful Speaker. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 978-0-618-42315-6. Retrieved 18 February 2013.
- Elyot, Sir Thomas (1883). The Boke Named The Gouernour. K. Paul, Trench. Retrieved 2013-02-18.
- Erasmus, Desiderius (1977). The Correspondence of Erasmus Letters 446 to 593. University of Toronto.
- Foxe, John (1859). Narratives of the Days of the Reformation, Chiefly from the Manuscripts of John Foxe the Martyrologist: With Two Contemporary Biographies of Archbishop Cranmer ... Camden Society. Retrieved 2013-02-18.
- Garner, Bryan (2009-07-28). Garner's Modern American Usage. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-987462-0. Retrieved 2013-02-18.
- Hall, Fitzedward (1873). Modern English. Scribner, Armstrong, & Company. p. 137. Retrieved 2013-02-18.
- Kloman, Felix (2005-05-16). Mumpsimus Revisited: Essays on Risk Management. Xlibris Corporation. p. 13. ISBN 978-1-4500-4568-1. Retrieved 2013-02-18.
- Leighton, Jan; Leighton, Hallie (1 January 2003). Rare Words and Ways to Master Their Meanings: 500 Arcane But Useful Words for Language Lovers. Levenger Company. p. 39. ISBN 978-1-929154-12-8. Retrieved 18 February 2013.
- Marshall, Peter (2001). "Mumpsimus and Sumpsimus: The Intellectual Origins of a Henrician Bon Mot" (PDF). The Journal of Ecclesiastical History. Cambridge University Press. 52 (3): 512–520. doi:10.1017/S0022046901005978. ISSN 0022-0469. Retrieved 24 February 2016.
- Scarlett, Earle Parkhill; Roland, Charles G. (1972). In sickness and in health: reflections on the medical profession. McClelland and Stewart. Retrieved 18 February 2013.
- The dictionary definition of mumpsimus at Wiktionary